Spence presents Wacker incident timeline, stresses need to join NIXLE

By ALLEN MINCEY Staff Writer
Posted 9/23/17

The explosion at Wacker Polysilicon on Sept. 7 led to questions by many people in the Charleston area and in the region as to what was occurring, with some even going as far as posting …

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Spence presents Wacker incident timeline, stresses need to join NIXLE

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The explosion at Wacker Polysilicon on Sept. 7 led to questions by many people in the Charleston area and in the region as to what was occurring, with some even going as far as posting explanations on social media without knowing all the facts.

Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency director Troy Spence, who responded to the scene, said he was even receiving messages noting 100 or so people had died in the explosion.

That, of course, was it showed how several in the county were trying to let the community know what they were hearing. In most cases, Spence said these messages were not based on what exactly happened.

A timeline which Spence sent the Cleveland Daily Banner gave a thorough explanation of what he said occurred.

“On Sept. 7, the Bradley County 911 Center received numerous calls from the area in and around Wacker ... for an explosion,” he said.

“Emergency response personnel from Bradley County Fire, Bradley County Emergency Management, Bradley County EMS, and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office responded to the area to investigate the explosion.

“During the response, a large cloud was observed coming from the Wacker facility, and upon arrival, BCFR and EMA met with the Wacker fire personnel and determined the explosion came from inside the plant and Wacker fire were assessing the damages,” he added.

“Early reports are there was a mechanical failure on a hydrogen pump that caused the subsequent explosion, and a chemical (was) released from inside the affected building. The explosion caused severe damage to the pipes inside and the building itself.”

He noted the chemical inside the pipes was trichlorosilane, which is the main component in the production of polysilicon products, and one of the by-products of this chemical being released “is that it converts (hydrolyzation with moisture) to a diluted solution of hydrochloric acid vapor.”

Spence said the Wacker turbo fire truck sprayed a mist of water on the leak to push it back to the

“Where the catch basin inside the damaged building was not allowing it to release into the ground/water”

The EMA director said that due to the visual vapor cloud leaving the site of the explosion, and the health concerns of skin irritation and respiratory irritation from the chemical, “an abundance of caution led the local emergency notification system to be activated and the recommendation to shelter in place to the public, as well as several roads in and around the Wacker site.”

Spence explained a mechanical failure on the turbo truck and a wind shift promoted a second emergency notification to be put out for shelter in place in and around the area while more equipment was brought in to spray the vapor cloud.

“Although there was no threat of imminent danger to the citizenry or the community during the entirety of this event, it wasn’t until the next morning that the fire crews (the assistance from the BCFR and Cleveland Fire Department) could be released and the scene deemed contained,” he said.

Since the explosion, Wacker-Charleston has suspended operations in the area of the leak, though the entire facility has not been closed, as some have said.

Employees at the facility have been placed in other areas of the plant, and are involved in continued training at the facility.

“Looking back on preparations for this day, numerous things have occurred and will continue to occur in preparation for another incident at Wacker, or any of the other chemical plants, transportation incidents, such as planes, trains or trucks, industrial incidents, fires, weather or other such incidents that can possibly occur throughout our community,” Spence said.

He said the EMA, BCFR and other emergency responders, school officials, hospital officials and others will continue to work “to ensure the accuracy and continuity of each entity in the Emergency Action Plan that they are required to have.

“We will continue to finely tune the official emergency public notification system, NIXLE, and encourage the public to access this free system by signing up for text messages to their mobile devices at 888777, the EMA director said. “Text the message ‘CBCEMA’ to the number to received these public emergency notifications.”

He said media outlets will be kept up to date with the most current, accurate information, in a timely fashion, as the incident will allow either through press releases, press briefings, news conferences, and by following NIXLE.

“The Bradley County government public information officer, Dr. Lindsay Hathcock, will work closely with incident commanders, responders and the responsible parties to get the information broadcast as soon as it is verified for public consumption, and this will help to alleviate any rumors, assumptions or false information being broadcast that could spread fear and panic,” Spence said.

He added “as professionals who take our responsibilities extremely seriously, we continue to learn from each event, keep utilizing what works and adapt our best practices to what may be needed for future events throughout our wonderful and amazing community,” he said. “Thank you for taking the time to be concerned and to also support those who routinely do their best to keep us all safe and secure.”

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